The p53 tumor suppressor is a universal sensor of genotoxic stress that regulates the transcription of genes required for cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis. In response to DNA damage, the p53 protein is phosphorylated at its amino-terminus and becomes stabilized upon disruption of an interaction with its negative regulator, MDM2. Subsequent phosphorylation and acetylation of p53 promote different interactions with other proteins and with target gene regulatory elements to facilitate cell-cycle arrest, apoptosis, or adaptation in response to DNA damage. Downstream of p53, p21 is responsible for growth arrest in G1, but other p53 target genes are responsible for G2 cell-cycle arrest. In response to genotoxic insult, p53-induced apoptosis results from overlapping downstream pathways that both suppress mitogenic and survival signaling and promote pro-apoptotic signaling. Adaptation to DNA damage is manifested by p53-mediated expression of its negative regulator, MDM2. The frequency of observed mutations in p53 predicts that its inactivation is a requisite step in tumorigenesis, as p53 is mutated in approximately 50% of human tumors. Thus, it is likely that in the remaining tumors, genetic aberrations will occur in pathways that regulate p53 or in pathways directly downstream of p53. The advances in the understanding of p53 signaling over the past few years point to many potential overlapping signaling pathways, where mutations may occur as alternative modes to p53 mutation.